Ritz Theatre

1148 E. Jersey Street,
Elizabeth, NJ 07201

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repolton
repolton on October 9, 2012 at 11:19 am

For more information about the building’s architect, see the website www.fredwesleywentworth.com I recently completed a book that focuses on the collaboration between Wentworth and Jacob Fabian, movie theater entrepreneur. REP

markp
markp on March 6, 2012 at 8:16 am

Still waiting, still hoping this place can get into the hands of someone who can really bring it back to life. Concerts, Broadway shows, movies, opera. I know this place can do well. People said the same thing about New Brunswick and Newark, and look at the venues they now have.

chasard321
chasard321 on March 3, 2012 at 4:04 pm

I had my first job there. 1966, as an usher. $1/hr.
I think the manager’s name was Mr Oswald. He’d been a history major.

RoadsideArchitecture.com
RoadsideArchitecture.com on March 21, 2011 at 5:32 pm

The theatre is open (their website shows upcoming entertainment & movies). Here’s a photo I took this past weekend:
http://agilitynut.com/11/3/ritz.jpg

markp
markp on September 25, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Hope it gets sold soon, so perhaps then it can take off with shows and classic films.

markp
markp on December 30, 2008 at 8:15 am

Another year gone by, and this grand palace continues to sit empty, except for the occasional spanish show. Maybe 2009 will see it reborn, with classic film programs, traveling broadway road shows, synphonys, and other great family entertainment. One can only hope and pray…

markp
markp on October 9, 2008 at 8:18 am

Any news on the sale? I may be going there in 2 weeks, to check on things. In the meantime if anyone knows anything about the impending sale, please post. Thank You

markp
markp on July 23, 2008 at 12:20 pm

Lets hope a group buys it and turns it into a great stage and movie venue again. I have been keeping tabs on this one for about 3 years now. was hoping to someday get movie revivals going again, but with the sale now its hard to say.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on July 14, 2008 at 10:28 am

For sale on loopnet. No price listed, though:
http://tinyurl.com/6ldgbf

markp
markp on January 9, 2008 at 7:20 pm

Went to visit the Ritz today, as I have been doing for some time now. The renovations of the interior are complete and look dazzleing. Next to be done are the stage rigging and projection room, which I am overseeing. Cant wait to get the old Peerless Magnarc carbon arc lamphouses fired up again. We also have a movie screen 6 months old from a closed up theatre, size 16' high by 37' wide, which will fit nicely into the 48' wide stage opening. More to come.

frankie
frankie on December 27, 2007 at 12:45 pm

At the beginning of her unique career, the one and only ETHEL MERMAN appeared here !!!

teecee
teecee on May 25, 2006 at 3:04 pm

Before it disappears:
Multiculturalism in a palatial venue
Sunday, May 21, 2006

By JIM BECKERMAN

Last September, some 2,000 people waited in line at the historic Ritz Theatre in Elizabeth for a live appearance by one of the biggest names in America.

Beyonce? 50 Cent? Paris Hilton?

Actually, it was Alvaro Uribe, president of Colombia.

Hey, we didn’t say which America.

“He was answering questions from the audience,” says Carolina Gil, the house manager and executive director for the Ritz Theatre.

“They were asking about the legalization for Colombians living in this country, about the violence in the country that’s making people leave,” she says.

That’s one of the more unusual events sponsored by the Ritz, one of New Jersey’s most unusual performing arts centers.

It’s not so unusual because of its large size (2,700 seats), or the lavishness of its interior (marble, gold leaf, Ionic columns and murals), its acoustics (voted the best in the area in a number of polls), or an old-fashioned marquee that was striking enough to be featured in a Woody Allen movie, “Sweet and Lowdown.”

Nor is it unusual because it is a former vaudeville and movie palace converted into a performing arts center. That’s the story of many Jersey venues, including the State Theatre in New Brunswick, the Union County Arts Center in Rahway, the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank and bergenPAC in Englewood.

What’s unusual is the audience.

“This is like a multicultural theater,” Gil says. “We get events that are different from NJPAC or PNC Bank Arts Center or the State Theatre.”

The Ritz Theatre caters to an area of central Jersey that is notable for its large emigre population: not only Colombians, Cubans, Dominicans, Peruvians, and other Latin groups, but also Indians and Pakistanis.

It follows that the headliners who sell out the theater — there have been lines around the block on a number of occasions — are not necessarily the ones that play other theaters in New Jersey.

Rosio Durcal, Paulina Rubio and the late Celia Cruz are some of the top-drawing stars who have brought out droves of people dressed, as per Latin etiquette, in their Sunday best.

“No sneakers, no jeans,” Gil says. “They come very nice, dress up for the event.”

When Julio Iglesias, long in semi-retirement, looked for a venue to stage his sole North American appearance in 2004, he chose the Ritz Theatre. Needless to say, it sold out. “We had 300 people outside without tickets,” Gil says.

Nor are Latin audiences the only ones served. A “Tribute to Bollywood” event in April, one of six or so a year that cater to the area’s burgeoning Indian population, brought a capacity audience. “It’s very exciting when you have an Indian event and you see 2,700 Indians coming from Edison, North Bergen, places like that,” Gil says.

If the season schedule didn’t tip you off that the Ritz was catering to a specialized audience, there are other giveaways.

The murals running along the proscenium arch, for one thing — part of a $3 million restoration project, between 1994 and 2005, that has brought the theater back to something like its splendor during the 1920s and ‘30s, when Cab Calloway and the Marx Brothers used to make personal appearances.

“Art, a Vision of Paradise” is the name of the murals, painted by Colombian-born artist Jorge Posada, that turn the interior of the theater into a faux-Renaissance palace, with winged angels descending from on high to hobnob with pipe-playing, lute-strumming musicians.

“It looks very nice, and it goes with the decor of the theater,” Gil says.

Then, too, the promotional strategy is very different from, say, New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.

Most of the advertising budget for Ritz shows is spent not on radio, TV or Web advertising, but on old-fashioned posters.

For a big show, $5,000 or more goes into the colorful posters, stapled to utility poles, and billboards, that trumpet to the Spanish-speaking world: “Ritz Theatre presenta. … ”

“The marketing is a very different formula,” Gil says. “At NJPAC, they don’t put posters out on the street. For Spanish audiences, you have to do the posters. In New Jersey, you have towns like Elizabeth and Perth Amboy where the Latin community lives, where these kinds of people concentrate and have businesses. They don’t have time for radio and TV. So posters and fliers is where the promotional money goes to.”

The 146-year-old Ritz has been through many changes since its first flowering as an opera house in post-Civil War Elizabeth.

It was a vaudeville theater for many years, then a movie palace, then a Spanish Pentecostal church. In the 1970s and ‘80s it became a more conventional performing arts venue where Tom Jones, Styx and Frank Sinatra played to largely English-speaking audiences.

It began its new lease on life when George Castro, originally from Colombia, came to Elizabeth in 1985, got a real estate license and made the proverbial killing in the growing Latino market (half of Elizabeth’s population of 125,000 is Spanish-speaking). In 1994, he and his brother Maurice bought the dilapidated theater and began the long process of restoration.

Gil, only 22 and herself a Colombia native, has seen her fortunes rise along with the theater — she worked her way up from box office attendant to executive director in only three years.

What impresses her most, she says, is the diversity of the Ritz audience: a forecast, perhaps, of a new and more multicultural America that is just around the corner.

“Even when we had an Indian event, we had Latin people coming to see it,” she says.

On the Web:

ritztheatre.net

E-mail:

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on May 25, 2006 at 3:35 am

A wonderful article about the Ritz entitled “Multiculturalism in a Palatial Venue,” by Jim Beckerman, was published in the North Jersey newspaper The Record on May 21st, 2006. It can currently be read at the Record’s website, www.bergen.com

teecee
teecee on March 17, 2006 at 6:34 pm

Why limit yourself to the marquee? There are a lot of nice interior shots in this person’s album:
View link

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on March 16, 2006 at 10:19 am

Here is a photo of the marquee:
http://tinyurl.com/hx36u

Thanks to lostmemory for the link – there are 94,000 theater photos on this site. Good for browsing.

Altoblanco
Altoblanco on March 8, 2006 at 7:40 pm

Their website’s URL has changed – it is now: http://ritztheatre.net/

teecee
teecee on March 2, 2006 at 1:58 am

Listed as part of RKO-Stanley Warner Theatres, Inc. in the 1976 International Motion Picture Almanac.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 19, 2005 at 3:33 am

Was this really a “transformation,” or did they demolish the original opera house and build a new theatre on the site? The antique photo suggests the latter. I tried to find that information at the “official website,” but it’s apparently down or has been discontinued.

teecee
teecee on September 18, 2005 at 3:47 am

Colombian president pays visit to Elizabeth
Velez holds forum for large community
Sunday, September 18, 2005
BY JENNIFER GOLSON
Star-Ledger Staff

“He will host a town-hall style meeting at the Ritz Theatre in Elizabeth today from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Velez is in the United States for the 60th annual United Nations General Assembly.”

Nice marquee photo in the print version welcoming the president in Spanish.

moviesmovies
moviesmovies on July 13, 2005 at 5:46 am

saw ‘Celebration At Big Sur’, ‘Little Fauss & Big Halsy’ ‘Zachariah'
and more here in the '70s

teecee
teecee on July 5, 2005 at 3:33 am

On 2/13/1926, a Wurlitzer organ, opus 1273, was installed in this theater.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on May 9, 2005 at 7:34 am

The Ritz Theatre opened on 8th March 1926 as a movie/vaudville theatre after its transformation from the old Drake Opera House.

teecee
teecee on March 21, 2005 at 7:52 pm

After a $1 million restoration two decades ago, the theater hosted legendary performers such as Ray Charles and Johnny Cash.
Woody Allen used its distinctive black marquee as a backdrop in his film, “Sweet and Lowdown.”